BEIRUT: A 31-year-old businessman is still trying to get over the shock of being detained for seven days in a Beirut police station as opposed to what should have been a 24-hour administrative arrest.
He was held in a small, hot and unsanitary cell where a bribe or the kindness of other detainees was the only way to live. Abuse by the police was rife, said B.L., who only gave his initials out of fear of retribution.
“People are being detained but it’s not against the law. The law says you have to be detained in order to go to the right place, but we are not animals. This is a place for dogs.”
Recent allegations against the country’s security services of wanton brutality and unjust detention have turned a spotlight on policing in the country. The difficult conditions chronicled in B.L.’s rather standard judicial processing show just how deep problems run.
There are problems that police officials have no trouble acknowledging.
“They do happen and they are happening, we have previously admitted these kinds of things are happening from bribery to physical abuse,” a police official told The Daily Star.
The police have been working for years to improve policing practices within their ranks. They have brought in international experts to offer council and set up anti-torture training to try to stop abuses before they happen.
But the difficulties run deep. Bureaucratic delays keep people in detention well beyond the legal limit and a culture of bribery and beating keeps the cash and torture coming.
“To crack down on these types of torture the ISF has established a separate division for investigations and these units make regular surprise checkups on detention centers,” the police official said.
While police administration works to fix the problems, experiences like B.L.’s continue.
A legal dispute, administrative mix-up and missed court date landed the marketer in a Beirut police station for what he thought would be a very brief stay. Instead B.L. learned how much water is a commodity, how far a bribe can go and how important a felon’s friendship can be.
B.L. described the small, dim room with one window and an open bathroom as foul smelling and inhumane. He said a complete lack of services from the police left detainees without food or water.
“They don’t give you food, if your parents don’t come for one night you stay without eating,” he said.
B.L. said those without visitors or money were fed at the generosity of fellow detainees: One Indian and one Syrian man without family to visit them stayed alive that way for 30 days.
The only way to get anything, even the gifts that were brought from friends, was money. A bottle of water went for LL10,000, he said. By the end of his detention B.L. and his family had paid around LL750,000 in bribes for him to stay healthy and to process his release papers.
The only bright aspect was when people bonded in the face of their hardships. People stopped caring about other people’s religions or politics. Murderers and minor offenders shared food and everyone gave something to those who had nothing at all.
“Inside there is no religion, there is no ‘this is mine this is yours,’ they all share, there are no problems,” he said.
Human rights organizations have long called for reforms to the country’s judicial system. And many people, from government officials to detainees, agree. The emphasis should be on giving people basic human rights, they say. “What we need is just a little air, some water and a little respect, nothing more,” B.L. said.